Astro Chemical Company, Inc.
Epoxy solutions providers
Business View Magazine interviews Jay Arnold, VP Sales & Business Development of Astro Chemical Co., for our focus on North American Resin Formulators.
Astro Chemical Company, Inc. is a leading formulator and manufacturer of specialty epoxies and epoxy-related materials. Astro supplies tailored solutions for customers in a variety of industries, primarily Power Generation, Electric Motors, Electronics, Composites, and for General Maintenance and Repair. Capabilities in custom epoxy formulation, specialty packaging, next-day dangerous goods shipping, combined with a product portfolio of over 400 formulations, give Astro Chemical the edge in providing exceptional value and service to over 1,200 customers worldwide.
The company was founded in 1959 by Malcolm M. Bard, a chemist with over twenty years of experience in specialty formulation. The company’s first formulated products were used in the manufacture and repair of large rotating machinery, such as electric motors and power generating equipment. Now celebrating its 60th anniversary, Astro Chemical offers a wide variety of specialty materials in four main classifications: adhesives, coatings, saturants, and encapsulants. The company may be most widely known for its line of BARCO BOND general-purpose, epoxy adhesive systems.
Jay Arnold, Vice President of Sales and Business Development, explains, “Over the decades, some technologies, such as small/medium sized electric motor have become commoditized, reducing the need for speciality materials; while in areas like large generator/motor, composites, and electrical equipment, the need for specialty products is greater than ever. As these technologies continue to develop, Astro Chemical has served as a key partner to its customers, helping to develop their evolving technologies to provide the exact products that fit both their assembly process and desired ‘in-service’ functional properties.”
Research and development is a huge part of Astro’s focus. The biggest investment, by far, in the last 10 to 15 years, has been in the lab; building out internal testing capabilities, processes, personnel, and expanding institutional knowledge. As customer needs have evolved, the typical legacy-type properties specified are now being called for at higher temperatures. Arnold notes, “Higher temperatures fundamentally change the way materials perform, especially with materials like adhesives and encapsulants. Evolving customer requirements necessitate more specialized testing equipment and expertise. Lately, a growing trend in our development work has focused on enhancing thermal conductivity in our products. Over a long service life, higher temperatures can be a problem for certain materials, to the detriment of critical properties like mechanical strength, toughness, and dielectric insulation performance. If you can get the heat to flow out of these materials, it vastly improves longevity and the efficiency at which the larger equipment operates.”
While the majority of its legacy products are engineered to exhibit dielectric insulating properties, Astro Chemical also formulates for electrical conductivity. Typical applications include semi-conductive coatings used for static dissipation and voltage equalization, and conductive adhesives for bonding dissimilar materials requiring intimate contact for electrical conductivity. Evaluating materials via electrical testing, thermal testing, and mechanical testing, and often combinations of the three, are typical in a development project. All work is performed at its facility in Ballston Lake, New York. Several hundred different raw material inputs go into the formulation process, and any given formula may have 10 to 15 types of material inputs going into the product to yield the desired properties.
“We’ll check our catalogue to see if we have a starting point for a new product demand,” says Arnold. “Usually we do, but if not, we’ll perform the formulation work from scratch. Part of the reason for the investment in our lab is to be able to perform almost all of the development and qualification testing required to validate a product to a new specification. This is especially important as many of our customers have reduced their engineering capacity to qualify these materials, due to cost pressures and headcount reduction. For many of our customers, we act as their out-of-house engineering department. We work directly with the engineers that are writing the specs and determining the functional need. We’ve really evolved in that way, and can really provide value to OEMs and Service Organizations of all sizes.”
Approximately a third of Astro Chemical’s business is international, with shipments going direct-to-sites around the world, typically to Europe, Asia, and South America. These specialty materials are supplied in a wide variety of sizes, from kits of a few ounces to 55-gallon drums. Most of Astro’s products are packaged in pre-weighed kits for ease of mixing and application by the user, in sizes that best fit the end-use application and reduce waste.
Arnold notes, “We have 25 employees, so a small footprint. Because of our large product catalog, our manufacturing operations are set up to monitor inventory levels and react quickly. While we carry inventory on most of our products, they tend to be ordered last minute, so we need to be able to turn around production batches in a matter of hours. Many of our materials are shelf-life sensitive, 12 to 36 months. Considering the variety in product demand and the shelf life, we prefer to manage inventory, centrally, and ship, globally, from one location.”
The biggest threat to the business is when designs change, and no longer need a specialty material. As for competition, the company has distinct advantages in this niche market. It has small, or no, minimum order requirements and the outstanding development and support capabilities draw customers in and keep them loyal. In addition to providing engineering and formulation work to qualify materials, technical support is available for application-based questions, ongoing use, and implementation consulting. Technical data sheets are not available on the Astro Chemical website. This is by design, as they prefer people to call and talk to technical support staff, as oftentimes the need is very specific. Much more than just selling, making, and engineering the product, ongoing customer support is a critical component to the company’s success.
Stringent shipping regulations and the chemical industry go hand in glove. According to Arnold, “HAZMAT shipping is a critical capability, and differentiates us from many in our industry. As shipping regulations grow more complex, almost all of our products require some sort of HAZMAT packaging and documentation to be compliant. Everyone on our shipping staff is certified to package and document to IATA (air), 49-CFR (ground), and IMDG (ocean) regulations.” All boxes and labels are designed in-house, tested, and certified, based around the specific materials being supplied. Astro Chemical ships as a third party on behalf of its customers; about 85 percent goes by cargo aircraft and is drop-shipped directly to jobsites and OEM production facilities around the world.
Over the last six years, Astro Chemical has completed several major expansions of its production areas, and added equipment as needed. Going forward, the focus is two-fold. First, maintaining and enhancing the lab capabilities to stay ahead as new test methods and customer requirements emerge. Second is personnel; keeping up with the pace of growth and reaching out to customers. “Making sure our customers are taken care of is the priority,” says Arnold. “We cast ourselves as materials experts that can sit at the table and support, and, sometimes, fill the materials engineering function for them. We belong to TRFA (Thermoset Resin Formulators Association), IEEE, SAMPE, and other trade groups for end–use materials, formulators, manufacturers, and we also network among our customers and suppliers. As manufacturing and engineering personnel whom we work with move around within and among industries, our relationship tends to follow. The customer is often our best window into the industry and being around for 60 years, we are fortunate to maintain a large number of contacts.”
The key to Astro Chemical’s success comes down to relationships, acting as the extension to customers’ engineering capabilities, putting a special focus on making materials that are not available elsewhere, and giving customers exactly what they need, or perhaps don’t even know they need. Arnold acknowledges, “That only comes via working closely with the customer, and it reaches across all industries we supply and support. We love being able to bring that type of value to our customers’ process. It drives us to do what we do.”
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Astro Chemical Company, Inc.
What: Formulator and manufacturer of specialty epoxies
Where: Ballston Lake, New York